UNIFYING AMERICA

We do need to unify America, both among the public and our policy makers, particularly our partisan Members of Congress. However, there are some people whose minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed and permanently set – often based on false information – who cannot be convinced to share in a unified vision of America. We will need to ignore them at times and at other times to counter their destructive messages and acts.

What we have that truly unites us all are the promises of our democracy: its principles and ideals of liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all. As the preamble to Constitution states, the United States of America was formed to create “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

These principles and ideals are what make our democratic republic exceptional – not what was actually established in 1789, not what it looks like today, and not what it has been at any time in between. The aspiration to achieve this vision is what is exceptional and we have struggled to live up to it to this day.

There is great diversity in America – which can and should be one of our strengths – and significant differences of opinion on how to achieve the promises of our democracy. We need to approach these differences rationally and collegially, with an eye on the overarching vision.

To unify America, we need a unity of purpose, driven by our vision for our democracy, and to be delivered by government of, by, and for all the people. Unifying America requires an honest search for the common good, common ground, and how to best to “promote the general welfare”. Loyal opposition is fine but not destructive opposition, not obstructionism, nor radical revolutionaries trying to tear down our democratic institutions and processes.

In today’s economy and society, we need to reconceptualize the commitments to liberty, freedom, and the promotion of the general welfare. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in his State of the Union Address in 1944 argued that the “political rights” guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness”. FDR proposed an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee equal opportunity and freedom from want that included the:

  • Right to a job and a fair income that could support a family,
  • Right to a decent home,
  • Right to health care and health,
  • Right to social security in old age, sickness, unemployment, and injury,
  • Right to a good education, and
  • Freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.

To unify America, we need to work toward liberty and freedom for all built on economic security and equal opportunity so one’s choices (i.e., one’s liberty and freedom) in life are not constrained by poverty, economic deprivation, or unaffordable necessities of life such as food, shelter, health care, and education.

To ensure liberty and freedom for all in our new democratic republic, the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was adopted in 1791. These rights remain critically important. However, we need to review the implementation of some of them in light of current technology and current politics.

On freedom of speech, we need to figure out how to regulate free speech on social media; to figure out what is the social media equivalent of yelling “FIRE” in the middle of a crowded theater. Recent events have made it clear that unbridled free speech on social media has contributed to violence and terrorism (i.e., speech that puts people in fear or psychological distress). In addition, social media have contributed to the dissemination of harmful misinformation. How to appropriately control speech on social media – allowing robust speech and conversations while limiting harm – is something we need to figure out.

Freedom of speech in our democracy, where all people are promised equality, means giving equal volume to every voice in America. Giving a bullhorn to those with money and a muzzle to those without money is antithetical to our vision for American democracy. Current legal interpretations equate spending money with free speech, including spending by corporations (not just spending by human beings). This needs to be reconsidered if we want to unify America.

Freedom of religion was meant to allow each individual to practice his or her own religion without the government dictating what an individual could believe or practice. Today, legal interpretations have gone beyond this and, for example, given employers the right to deny contraceptives and other health care to women because of the employer’s religious beliefs. Legal interpretations have also given health care provider institutions and individuals, who are licensed by the government, the right to deny both services and information to patients based on the provider’s religious beliefs. If we want to unify America, freedom of religion should not impede an individual’s right to make decisions with full information and with all choices available to her or him. Individual’s choices should not be dictated or constrained by others’ religious beliefs.

Justice for all means that everyone’s treatment in our society and justice system should be equal and fair, and that the rule of law should be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Anyone and everyone who violates the law must be held accountable. If some people are allowed to violate the law with impunity and others are prosecuted and punished, there won’t be unity. A dramatic, historical example is that after the Civil War we failed to hold the leaders of the Confederacy accountable. We allowed them to return to power in state and local governments. The result was Jim Crow laws and the re-subjugation of African Americans. This underscores the importance of holding white supremacists and racists accountable for their domestic terrorism and other violations of the law today, 150 years later.

Justice for all also means that if some people have received unfairly harsh treatment from our laws and criminal justice system, there cannot by unity until those wrongs are acknowledged and corrected, including providing just compensation.

Unifying America means providing equal opportunity to everyone, particularly to every child. This is what valuing families or “family values” should mean to all of us. One test for a just society is what ethicist John Rawls called the veil of ignorance. He defined a fair society as one where, if confronted with a veil of ignorance about our position and role in society, we would be willing to accept anyone’s position and role in the society. As an early childhood advocate, I’ve presented this as thinking that you are the baby that the stork is about to deliver and if you are comfortable being delivered to any parent in the society, then it’s a fair society. But if there are some parents (or for the previous description, some positions and roles in society) that you would not want to be delivered to or put in, then the society is unfair and unjust, as it does not provide equal opportunity for everyone.

If people truly want to unify America, they must be committed to honestly working toward the vision of our democracy and our Constitution for liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all or, in other words, for promotion of the general welfare. Without this, there can be no unity.

In my next post, I will discuss these topics more specifically in terms of public policies and actions that are needed to unify America.

PROGRESSIVE POLICIES #1: UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE AND EARLY LEARNING

Access to affordable, high quality early care and education (ECE) for children under school age is essential for allowing parents to be productive members of the workforce and for putting young children, especially those from families facing economic or other challenges, on a trajectory for success. Therefore, providing universal ECE is an important progressive policy priority.

For 65% of children under age six, all parents are working. The lack of affordable ECE means that some parents can’t afford to work, reducing the labor force participation of parents – a loss to our economy. In addition, reduced productivity due to employees’ inadequate or undependable ECE costs businesses billions of dollars a year because of absenteeism and other impacts on parents’ ability to work productively.

Low-income families spend, on average, over 17% of their incomes for ECE. The federal government’s benchmark for affordability is that ECE should cost no more than 7% of income. With two or more children, ECE often costs more than a parent can earn. Therefore, it can make economic sense for a parent to drop out of the workforce and care for the children.

Because providers of ECE must make their services affordable for parents, in many cases they cannot afford to provide high quality services. In particular, they cannot afford to pay ECE teachers enough to consistently attract and retain top notch staff. ECE teachers are paid much less than what they would make in other positions, for example as a public school teacher. Despite the push to have ECE teachers have a Bachelor’s degree, as public-school teachers do, their pay is about half that of public school teachers.

ECE teachers make less than $24,000 on average; pay so low that roughly half of them require public assistance, such as Food Stamps, to make ends meet. Therefore, turnover is high – which does not provide the stability of consistent relationships that children need or the quality of services that an experienced, stable workforce can deliver.

Investments in young children and their families can produce a high return on investment (ROI) – up to $17 for every dollar spent – according to numerous studies. High quality ECE for children, coupled with support for low-income parents, reduces the need for special education and grade retention in schools, reduces high school dropout rates and involvement with the criminal justice system, and increases children’s educational attainment and their future earnings. More recent studies have identified long-term improvements in health and mental health, as well as benefits for the next generation of children. These more recently identified outcomes have not yet been factored into the ROI calculations; they will undoubtedly increase the ROI for investments in young children and their families, probably substantially above the 17 to 1 return calculated by the Perry Preschool Study.

Current federal ECE programs serve only a fraction of eligible children because funding is limited. Head Start serves fewer than 50% of eligible 3 and 4 year olds (i.e., those in families below the poverty line, which is only $21,000 for a family of three that not infrequently consists of a single parent with two young children). Early Head Start, for families with a child from birth to three, serves fewer than 10% of those eligible. Finally, the Child Care and Development Fund, which subsidizes ECE for all other families, serves only about 16% of the eligible families (1 in 6).

Senator (and presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren has made a detailed policy proposal for universally accessible ECE. Her Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan would:

  • Provide universal access to locally run ECE in centers, homes, or other settings so every family can choose the ECE it would prefer and every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
  • Ensure affordability by providing ECE free to families below twice the poverty line (about $51,500 for a family of 4) and on a sliding fee basis to other families so no family pays more than 7% of its income for ECE.
  • Guarantee high quality services, including comprehensive support for children’s growth and development, such as health, dental, and other services to ensure a safe, nurturing early childhood experience.
  • Compensate ECE teachers at the same level as public school teachers and provide them with professional development opportunities, which will improve quality and reduce turnover.

An independent economic analysis estimates that such a program of universal, affordable, high quality ECE would cost about $70 billion per year. Senator Warren proposes paying for this with a wealth tax that would generate $275 billion per year. (See my previous post for more details and options on how to pay for progressive policies like this one.)

Universal, affordable ECE would increase labor force participation and productivity, thereby stimulating economic growth and increasing tax revenue. Therefore, universal ECE would, at least in part, pay for itself in the short-term, and over the long-term the return on investment due to improved outcomes for the children would more than pay for this investment in our young children and their families.

CORPORATE PROFITS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BABIES’ SURVIVAL

The influence of large corporations on federal policy is nothing new, although the Trump administration seems to be even more unabashedly aligned with corporate interests than previous administrations. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s callousness and inhumanity on issues having to do with families and children is clear, most notably in its policy of separating immigrant parents and children – despite the First Lady’s “Be Best” campaign that promotes good child outcomes.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution in support of breastfeeding shocked medical professionals, diplomats, and public health officials around the world. In case you haven’t heard, the US delegation to a WHO meeting in May attempted to block and then succeeded in somewhat watering down a resolution that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and to put limits on misleading and dangerous marketing of breast-milk substitutes, such as infant formula, and other food products harmful to young children.

This effort by US officials promoted the interests of the $70 billion infant formula industry, despite decades of evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding over the use of infant formula. [1] Lobbyists for the industry were present at the meeting to support the Trump administration’s efforts. [2] The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for a baby’s first 6 months whenever possible, as well as for the next 6 months or longer as other foods are appropriately introduced. [3]

Some of you may remember the boycott of Nestle in the 1970s when it was aggressively promoting infant formula in developing countries where clean water for preparing infant formula was often not available. Babies died because infant formula was contaminated with bad water and because mothers couldn’t afford to the continue with the formula but couldn’t breast-feed because they had stopped lactating. Abbott Laboratories, based in Chicago, is one of the biggest corporations in the infant formula industry, along with Nestle, which is based in Switzerland but has a significant presence in the US.

Breastfeeding is the cheapest, easiest, and safest form of nutrition for infants in most cases, especially for low-income mothers and where clean, safe water is not reliably available. A 2016 study found that universal breastfeeding would save 800,000 infants’ lives annually around the world, while saving $300 billion as well. Breast milk provides not only nutrition, but hormones and antibodies that protect babies from diseases. Breast-fed infants have significantly fewer respiratory tract, ear, and gastrointestinal infections. Breast-feeding is also associated with lower risks of sudden infant death syndrome, allergies, asthma, eczema, celiac disease, bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, and leukemia. Mothers who breast-feed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. [4]

As part of its efforts to block the breastfeeding resolution, the US delegation threatened to cut its funding for the World Health Organization. The US is the biggest funder of the WHO, providing about 15% of its budget or $845 million. The WHO is essential to public health globally and in the US, as it provides, for example, the first response to flu and Ebola epidemics wherever they occur. It also plays a leading role in addressing the rising death toll from diabetes and cardiovascular disease around the world.

Ecuador, the original sponsor of the breastfeeding resolution, withdrew its sponsorship after the US threatened it with trade sanctions and withdrawal of military assistance, which helps it deal with violence spilling over its border with Columbia. Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor, but at least a dozen other countries refused citing fear of retaliation from the US. Russia finally agreed to sponsor the resolution, and apparently the US did not threaten it. [5]

Nonetheless, the US succeeded in weakening parts of the resolution. It insisted on adding the words “evidence-based” to references to long-standing practices that promote breastfeeding, despite public health experts pointing out that doing random assignment studies (where some children would be denied breast milk) to establish “evidence-based” outcomes would be ethically and morally unacceptable. The US unfortunately succeeded in getting language removed from the resolution that called on the WHO to support governments in their efforts to block the “inappropriate promotion of foods to infants and young children.”

In another part of the resolution, the US succeeded, unfortunately, in removing language that supported taxing sugar-laden soft drinks as a strategy for addressing soaring rates of obesity around the world. Fortunately, however, the US was unsuccessfully in its attempts to block a WHO program that helps poor countries obtain life-saving medicines at an affordable cost; opposition to this program comes, not surprisingly, from the pharmaceutical corporations.

It is appalling to me that the US government is making corporate profits a higher priority than the lives, health, and well-being of children and adults around the world, including in the US. These examples from the WHO meeting are some of the more dramatic and appalling ones, but there are plenty of other ones.

Corporate profits have been prioritized over the well-being of workers and the middle class in the US, in a variety of ways, for almost 40 years now. This is why US voters were so angry with the status quo in the federal government that in 2016 almost half of eligible voters did not vote in the presidential election and why almost half of those that did vote, voted for Trump. (He won in the Electoral College even though he lacked a majority of the actual votes.)

We need to change our policy priorities and put people first and regulate corporations so they serve the public good. The whole point of allowing the creation of corporations and other limited liability organizations was to more efficiently promote the public good and an economy where everyone could pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The purpose for corporations and the priorities of our public policies have gotten turned upside down. Particularly in the US., but elsewhere as well, the priorities of government and the role of corporations in our economy need to be returned to those of the late 1940s through the 1970s when income inequality was much lower and economic security was much higher.

[1]      Khazan, O., 7/10/18, “The epic battle between breast milk and infant-formula companies,” The Atlantic

[2]      Jacobs, A., 7/8/18, “U.S. opposition to breast-feeding resolution stuns world health officials,” The New York Times

[3]      Williams, E., 7/10/18, “Breastfeeding: The benefits,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Rabin, R. C., 7/9/18, “Trump stance on breast-feeding and formula criticized by medical experts,” The New York Times

[5]      Jacobs, A., 7/8/18, see above

SUPPORTING FAMILIES IS AN INVESTMENT IN HUMAN CAPITAL Part 2

ABSTRACT: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. This increases stress for parents, hurts their ability to be good parents, and adversely affects child and adolescent outcomes. Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children.

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of those who are mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

FULL POST: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. These work schedules include hours outside of the normal 9 to 5 work day or that vary from week to week. In some cases, the number of hours worked varies from one week to the next making income uncertain and managing a budget difficult at best. Non-standard work schedules increase stress for parents, hurt their ability to be good parents, and adversely affect child and adolescent outcomes. [1]

Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children – an investment in our human capital. If our society truly values families, we will support them with work schedules that allow them to be good parents. (See my post Big ideas to help working parents for a set of policies, including predictable work schedules, that would help working families.)

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. One reason is that the number of part-time and temporary or contingent jobs is increasing as the number of full-time jobs is decreasing. Another reason is that computerized scheduling programs now allow employers to match staffing levels to customer demand with greater precision and, therefore, to engage in “just-in-time” scheduling of employees. In some cases, employers call employees to come into work on short notice or require them to work beyond their scheduled shift if there is unexpectedly high demand. They also may send employees home (without pay) when they show up for scheduled work if business is slow.

For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. For hourly food service workers, over 80% know their schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for 90% of them the number of hours worked varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. They may not be able to be home when children leave for school or arrive home – resulting in latch-key children who are home alone. Similarly, they may not be able to make regular child care arrangements, which is likely to decrease the quality of care a child receives. Scheduling doctors’ appointments and teacher meetings may be difficult as well.

In general, parents working non-standard work schedules cannot provide children the consistent schedules and nurturing that are critical to healthy child growth and development. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer. For example:

  • Their toddlers exhibit problems with language development, problem solving, and learning.
  • Their preschoolers have more negative behaviors – anxiety, withdrawal, and aggression.
  • Their adolescents are more likely to exhibit delinquent, aggressive, and other negative behaviors. [2]

Non-standard work schedules are more common for younger, less educated, lower income, and minority workers. In addition, they are more common for single mothers. All of these characteristics of parents increase the risk of compromised child outcomes, and the higher likelihood of non-standard work schedules further increases this risk.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Labor laws could require employers to give workers at least 4 weeks’ notice of their work schedules and require that they be paid for scheduled hours even if business is slow. Employers could be required to pay time and a half for extended shifts or work hours outside of the standard 9 to 5 window.

Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

[1]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). “Parents’ non-standard work schedules make adequate child rearing difficult,” Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/publication/parents-non-standard-work-schedules-make-adequate-childrearing-difficult-reforming-labor-market-practices-can-improve-childrens-cognitive-and-behavioral-outcomes/)

[2]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). See above.

SUPPORTING FAMILIES IS AN INVESTMENT IN HUMAN CAPITAL Part 1

ABSTRACT: Parents with a child under 18 years of age make up over 22% of the of the US labor force. These parents represent an important part of the human capital of our economy, and their children represent the human capital of our future economy. Therefore, supporting these families with paid leave when a new child arrives is an investment in our current and future human capital. The US is one of only three countries in the world that does not require paid parental leave.

Many mothers return to work very shortly after the birth of their child: 23% return to work within 2 weeks of having a child. A quick return to work is unhealthy for both the mother and the child, but many families need the income to make ends meet.

Some states and cities in the US have adopted paid family leave programs. Despite employers’ dire warnings at the time of their enactment, a recent study found that that these paid leave requirements have not hurt profitability, productivity, or turnover.

It’s time for the US to catch up with the rest of the world and do what’s only humane for our families and children, require paid parental leave when a new child joins a family. This would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s families. Paid family leave has been shown to work – it benefits children and families substantially, while it has no negative effects on employers and may actual benefit them.

FULL POST: Parents with a child under 18 years of age make up over 22% of the of the US labor force. In these families, 93% of fathers and 70% of mothers work. [1] In 60% of these households, both parents are working, and this is only slightly lower for families with a child under 1 year old. [2] These parents represent an important part of the human capital of our economy, and their children represent the human capital of our future economy.

Therefore, supporting these families with paid leave when a new child arrives is an investment in our current and future human capital, no less so than education and job training. If our society truly values families, we will support them with paid family leave. (See my post Big ideas to help working parents for a set of policies, including paid leave, that would help working families.) The US is one of only three countries in the world that does not require paid parental leave. (The other two are Papua New Guinea and Suriname.) Some Scandinavian countries offer over a year of paid parental leave.

Only 13% of US workers have access to paid family leave and they are typically highly paid, salaried employees. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave but only for the roughly 60% of US workers that are at companies with over 50 employees and who have been at their current job for over a year. However, many of the eligible employees cannot afford to go 12 weeks without pay and therefore don’t take the FMLA leave.

Many workers – usually mothers – stitch together vacation time, sick time, and personal days to take time off at the birth of a child. Some buy disability insurance policies that cover maternity leave. Some take unpaid leave or quit working, but many mothers return to work very shortly after the birth of their child: 23% return to work within 2 weeks of having a child. [3]

A quick return to work is unhealthy for both the mother and the child. In particular, mothers who take longer maternity leaves are less likely to experience depression. Mothers who go back to work sooner, breastfeed their children less, which leads to increased illness, obesity, allergies, and even sudden infant death syndrome in their children. Shorter maternity leaves also can negatively affect the child’s development of motor skills, social skills, and language. A study in Europe found that paid leaves and longer paid leaves were correlated with a decrease in the death rate for young children, especially infants under 1 year old.

Some states and cities in the US have adopted paid family leave programs. California’s has been in place since 2002 and New Jersey’s since 2008. Despite employers’ dire warnings at the time of their enactment, a recent study found that that these paid leave requirements have not hurt profitability, productivity, or turnover. Other studies have found that paid leave and workplace flexibility for parents increase productivity, profitability, the ability to recruit talented workers, and the stock performance for companies; improve job satisfaction and work-family balance for workers; and reduce absenteeism, turnover, and worker replacement costs for employers. [4]

The Obama administration has recently announced grants to help states establish paid family leave programs and a number of the 2016 presidential candidates, notably Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have put forth strong proposals for paid family leave.

It’s time for the US to catch up with the rest of the world and do what’s only humane for our families and children, require paid parental leave when a new child joins a family. This would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s families. It’s also an investment in the human capital of our current and future workforce. Despite employers’ dire warnings about its impacts, paid family leave in other countries, as well as in states and cities here in the US, has been shown to work – it benefits children and families substantially, while it has no negative effects on employers and may actual benefit them.

[1]       Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4/23/15, “Employment characteristics of families,” US Dept. of Labor (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm)

[2]       Council of Economic Advisers, June 2014, “Nine facts about American families and work,” Executive Office of the President of the United States (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/nine_facts_about_family_and_work_real_final.pdf)

[3]       Lerner, S., Aug. 2015, “The real war on families,” In These Times

[4]       Council of Economic Advisers, June 2014, see above

BIG IDEAS TO HELP WORKING PARENTS

ABSTRACT: Working parents in the U.S. are struggling both to make ends meet and to be good parents. They need to be paid a reasonable wage so that full-time work provides a decent standard of living for their families (as it used to). Furthermore, employers and government should work together to ensure that workplaces are family-friendly. These are the first two topics of Ten Big Ideas to Save the Economy, presented by MoveOn.org and Robert Reich in 3 minute videos.

The first Big Idea is the Fight for $15 – the campaign for a $15 minimum wage. If the minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity since 1968, the minimum wage would be over $21 per hour. If it had simply kept up with inflation it would be over $10 per hour. If we want to be a decent and fair society, we need to pay working parents a decent and fair wage. Also, a higher minimum wage would save employers money be reducing turnover.

The second Big Idea is a set of policies and practices that make work family-friendly. Working parents need:

  • Equal pay for women
  • Predictable schedules with regular hours
  • Reliable, high quality child care
  • Paid family leave

We don’t have a healthy society if we don’t have healthy families and we can’t have a strong country if we don’t have strong families. Providing basic economic security and family-friendly workplaces for our working parents is critical to having strong, healthy families. This is not only an essential investment in families and our economy, but also in our future – our children.

FULL POST: Working parents in the U.S. are struggling both to make ends meet and to be good parents. They need to be paid a reasonable wage so that full-time work provides a decent standard of living for their families (as it used to). Furthermore, employers and government should work together to ensure that workplaces are family-friendly. These are the first two topics of Ten Big Ideas to Save the Economy, presented in 3 minute videos by Robert Reich (President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and MoveOn.org (the progressive, grassroots organization promoting participation in our democracy).

The first of these ten commonsense ideas to make our economy work for everyone is the Fight for $15 – the campaign for a $15 minimum wage. A $15 per hour wage would mean that a full-time worker would make about $30,000 a year. [1] Even at this level, many families would still be struggling to make ends meet. Currently, with the federal minimum wage at $7.25, a third of all families live paycheck to paycheck. If, since 1968, the minimum wage had kept up with increases in workers’ productivity (how much the output of their work is worth), the minimum wage would be over $21 per hour. If it had simply kept up with inflation it would be over $10 per hour. If we want to be a decent and fair society, we need to pay working parents a decent and fair wage.

Minimum wage workers are not kids making a little spending money; half of them are over 35 years old, many are women, and many are supporting families. A higher minimum wage would save employers money be reducing turnover, which reduces the costs of recruiting and training new workers. A number of cities (e.g., Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) have made the commitment to raising their minimum wages to $15 an hour; the rest of the country should follow suit.

The second Big Idea is a set of policies and practices that make work family-friendly. [2] For starters, women should receive equal pay. Also, working parents need predictable schedules with regular hours so they can plan their families’ schedules and know how much income they will have. In some business sectors (such as retail sales, food service, and home care), the majority of workers don’t know their schedules a week in advance. Some only get a few hours’ notice and some show up at work and are told to go home (without any pay) because it’s a slow day. Many employers manage part-time workers’ schedules to make sure they don’t earn any overtime or qualify for benefits. [3]

Reliable, high quality child care, including for out-of-school time when parents are working, needs to be universally available and affordable. Parents (both mothers and fathers) should receive paid family leave when a new child joins the family and if a health emergency occurs.

The benefits of raising the minimum wage and instituting family-friendly workplace policies are broad and reach well beyond workers and their families. Employers would benefit from having more reliable, productive employees. Society (i.e., taxpayers) would also benefit, not only from improved economic efficiency, but also because the children of working parents would be more likely to be successful in school and in life. Other developed countries have implemented most if not all of these policies; we can too if we have the public will to make this a priority.

We don’t have a healthy society if we don’t have healthy families and we can’t have a strong country if we don’t have strong families. Providing basic economic security and family-friendly workplaces is critical to having strong, healthy families. Family values means supporting working parents, which also gives their children a fair chance to succeed. Helping working parents is not only an essential investment in our families and our economy, but also in our children who are the future of our nation and our economy.

[1]       You can watch the 3 minute video at: http://civ.moveon.org/fightfor15/share.html?id=114907-5637721-4VHTwex#watch.

[2]       You can watch the 3 minute video at: http://civic.moveon.org/helpworkingfamilies/share.html?id=115612-5637721-L2wvmQx#watch.

[3]       Loth, R., 5/29/15, “For workers, ‘flexible’ schedule means unpredictability,” The Boston Globe